Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Passion (II)

Holy Week
“In mortal sadness, in entire forsakenness, in that desolation expressed in the twenty-first Psalm, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Christ kept perfect mastery over himself, complete abandonment to the divine will, and a profound peace that found expression in his last words.” (Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Love of God and the Cross of Christ)

St. Thomas Aquinas maintains that, while Christ suffered the most intense sorrow and pain in the Passion, he nevertheless experienced also the greatest joy of beatitude trough the beatific vision (ST III, q.46, a.8). Indeed, while it is impossible for a man to be both happy and sorrowful at the same time about the same thing, it is not impossible that one should be happy on one account and sorrowful on another even at the same time.

Moreover, the beatitude of Christ’s soul actually increased the sorrow and pain which he suffered. For Christ was sorrowful at the sins of men and he knew these sins most perfectly through the beatific vision and infused knowledge—thus, upon the Cross, Christ knew each sin which had ever or would ever be committed and he knew who would abandon him and how many would die in mortal sin rather than receive his grace; and all of this caused the greatest sorrow in his soul. Again, the beatitude of Christ’s soul increased the physical pain which he suffered, since his physical senses were most perfect and in no way dulled by sin.Keeping this in mind, we look to the fourth of Christ’s last words, “Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? That is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Mt 27:46

Our Lord here refers to Psalm 22 (21), the Psalm which foretells his Passion. Moreover, the Savior replies to those who had mocked him, asking why he did not save himself as he had saved others—“I do not save myself, but remain on the Cross, so as to save you and all. I am forsaken, that you might not be eternally forsaken. I die now, that you might forever have life.”

Calvin had misinterpreted these words of Christ as indicating despair—for Calvin thought that Christ not only suffered for us, but that the Lord suffered as a sinner and indeed despaired of all hope as one of the damned. But this cannot stand, for if Christ despaired, then he sinned and can no longer be the cause of the remission of all sin. Moreover, he surely did not despaired, who shortly thereafter says in all peace and tranquility, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

Cornelius a’ Lapide writes, “Christ therefore does not cry out as being forsaken by the Godhead and hypostatic union of the Word, nor even by the grace and love of God, but only because the Father did not rescue him from instant death, nor soothe in any way his cruel sufferings, but permitted him to endure unmitigated tortures.” (Commentary on Matthew) Thus, Christ was separated from God neither according to essence nor according to his hypostatic union, but only according as the Godhead withheld its succor and allowed our Lord to endure much suffering.

Finally, Origen tells us that these words of Christ may be understood as his complaining of how few would be saved and of how many would be utterly lost, rendering his Passion useless in their lives. Then our Savior complains, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” not insofar as he was forsaken in his proper person, but rather as he is forsaken in the multitude who, obstinate in their sins, are forsaken by God. The Lord identifies himself with sinners, interceding on their behalf before God as if to say—“If you forsake them, you will forsake me as well, your beloved Son; for I have united myself to them all.” (Cf. Cornelius a’ Lapide, Commentary on Matthew)

This is the great mystery upon which we are all called to meditate in these days: Christ has so loved us as to unite himself with us that we might be united to him, to suffer with us that we might be glorified with him.

We adore thee, oh Christ, and we bless thee. For by thy holy Cross, thou hast redeemed the world.


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